Arms transfer in Ukraine raises fears of arms smuggling

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President Biden is expected to sign a 40 40 billion security assistance package in the coming days that will supercharge the flow of missiles, rockets, artillery and drones into war-torn Ukraine.

What remains unclear, however, is Washington’s ability to keep track when powerful weapons enter one of Europe’s largest trafficking centers.

Since Russia’s initial aggression in 2014, Ukraine’s illegal arms market has become a balloon, suppressed by a surplus of loose weapons and limited control over their use.

This uncomfortable reality for the United States and its allies comes at the urging of President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide artillery needed to deal with Russian forces in the east and south of the country. The bipartisan 368-to-57 vote on Tuesday credited the Ukrainian leader’s request to bring together lawmakers in the House behind the latest funding request. But the unprecedented influx of weapons has fueled fears that some equipment could fall into the hands of Western adversaries or resurface into distant conflicts – for decades to come.

“It’s not just about where they’re going and who’s using them, it’s impossible to keep track of how they’re being used,” said Rachel Stohl, a weapons control specialist and vice president at the Stimson Center.

A State Department spokesman said the United States had conducted a thorough examination of Ukrainian units while forcing Kiev to sign the agreement, which “does not allow the transfer of equipment to third parties without prior approval from the US government.”

But the means of enforcing such agreements are relatively weak – and have been further undermined by Washington’s mixed history of consent, as recently as last month.

Ukraine’s defeat on the battlefield with Russia benefits Ukraine

In mid-April, the United States stepped up its involvement in the Ukraine conflict by announcing that it would hand over a fleet of Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine that it had originally purchased from Russia almost a decade ago. The United States had to sign an agreement for the initial sale of the aircraft, promising not to transfer the helicopter to any third country “without the approval of the Russian Federation”, according to a copy of the certificate posted on Russia’s Federal Service website. Military-technical cooperation.

Russia has condemned the transfer, saying it violates “international law.”

Weapons experts say Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine is more supportive than US support, but chipping away at arms embargo breach-prevention efforts.

Jeff Abramson, a conventional arms transfer expert at the Arms Control Association, said, “Breaking these end-use agreements is an inherent, but weak, serious threat to countries’ ability to control how weapons are used.”

A Pentagon spokesman dismissed the criticism, saying the Russian allegations were “confusing” and that the transfer was “permissible under US law and in line with our national security priorities.”

Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Anton T. “Russia’s claims are a fabricated attempt to divert attention from the history of Russia’s aggression without provocation and its offensive against Ukraine since 2014,” Semelroth said.

The task of ensuring that US weapons are used for their intended purpose – a joint responsibility of the State and the Department of Defense – is made even more difficult by the large amount of weapons in Ukraine.

The emergency spending bill awaiting Senate approval will reaffirm Ukraine’s status as the world’s single largest recipient of US security assistance, more than the United States has provided to Afghanistan, Iraq or Israel in 2022.

The Pentagon will buy Ukraine laser-guided rockets, surveillance drones

This will add to the stockpile of weapons already pledged to Ukraine, including 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 5,500 anti-tank missiles, 700 switchblade drones, 90 long-range Howitzer artillery systems, 7,000 small arms and 50,000 anti-aircraft weapons. . , Explosives and laser-guided rocket systems.

Shoulder-powered Stinger missiles, capable of destroying commercial aircraft, are the only expert on weapons systems that could be seized by terrorist groups seeking to inflict heavy casualties.

The Biden administration’s funding requests include $ 8.7 billion to replenish U.S. arms shipments to Ukraine, $ 6 billion to train and equip Ukrainian forces, and $ 3.9 billion for U.S. forces deployed across Europe in response to the war-related security crisis.

Other NATO nations have shipped billions of dollars in weapons and military equipment since the start of the hostilities.

William Hartung, an arms control expert at the Quincy Institute think tank, said the aid “surpasses the maximum year of US military assistance to Afghan security forces during the 20-year war.” “In that case, the United States had a large presence in the country, which made it possible to at least track where the weapons were going.” By comparison, the U.S. government is blindly monitoring the supply of weapons to Ukraine’s civilian militia and military. “

Ukraine’s history as a center for arms trafficking dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Soviet military left large quantities of small arms and light weapons in Ukraine without adequate record-keeping and inventory control. According to the Geneva-based research firm, Small Arms Survey, in 1992 a portion of the 7.1 million small arms of the Ukrainian army was “moved to the conflict zone” citing the “risk of being leaked to the local black market”.

The problem was exacerbated by the Russian invasion in 2014, where militants were seen looting Ukraine’s security services, the Interior and Defense Ministry’s weapons and ammunition depots. “Irregular fighters on both sides have gradually gained access to a wide range of military-grade equipment, including the full spectrum of small arms and light weapons,” according to a 2017 report on small arms surveys. “Officials estimate that at least 300,000 small arms and light weapons were looted or lost between 2013 and 2015,” said Donbass, a boon to the country’s black market, run by mafia-style groups and other criminal networks.

The U.S. government is well aware of the country’s challenge with arms proliferation, although it was unclear when describing the precautions it was taking.

In the weeks leading up to Russia’s latest attack on Ukraine on February 24, a team of inter-agency officials from the Biden administration met with outside arms control experts to discuss the risk of small-arms proliferation in the conflict. According to Stahl, who attended a meeting, U.S. officials promised to verify Ukraine’s security forces and address reports of unauthorized transfers – but little is known about how the verification or monitoring is carried out.

“It doesn’t inspire too much confidence,” Stohl said.

Other weapons experts feel the same way in the dark.

“It is unclear what risks the United States and other countries have taken to mitigate or monitor, or what guarantees they have received, to ensure the safety of civilians through this massive relocation,” said Annie Schill, a senior adviser to the civilian center. In conflict

Some of the recommended measures include the US government establishing a special investigator in Afghanistan, ensuring that there is a strong tracking system in arms transfers, adding human rights obligations to the terms of sale, and providing specific information on which units could be approved for such transfers. . (In 2018, Congress banned the Azov Battalion of Ukraine, a far-right nationalist party associated with neo-Nazism, from taking up arms in the United States.)

In addition to listing mercenaries from Libya, Syria and Chechnya, reports from Russian contractor Wagner Group also raise concerns among surveillance groups about the proliferation of weapons from Moscow.

During a televised meeting of Russia’s Security Council in March, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 18,000 Middle Eastern volunteers were ready to fight Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.

In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his approval, saying “we have to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone.”

At the same meeting, Shoigu proposed handing over US Javelin and Stinger missiles to pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region. “Please do it,” Putin told Shoigu.

The introduction of foreign fighters into a conflict puts them at risk of returning their weapons to their homeland once the war in Ukraine is over. Although there are conflicting reports about the presence of foreign fighters and it is not clear how many have actually traveled to Ukraine.

The lack of information has encouraged the administration to respond and call for congressional attention.

“Some of the weapons supplied to the conflict in Ukraine will probably be available years, and probably decades later,” Abramson said. “Congressional leaders should ask these questions, if necessary, in classified briefings, and better inform the public.”

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